Grimace

Vol. 2, no. 1

“The distorted faces of the youths on social media feature ready-made expressions that do not correspond with any deeply felt psychic reality. The face no longer acts as a surface but as a mere plane where highly standardized signs can be projected.”

— Monika Schwärzler

Editorial

One of the most privileged and complex motives in the history of photography is the human face. Not only that – it has always been a heavily contested landscape, deeply invested in the aesthetic and ideological struggles concerning the nature of human beings, social class as well as its proper representation through the medium of photography. Photographs of the face, sometimes even understood as the “windows to the soul”, capture and freeze the otherwise fleeting extremes of facial expressions – the grimaces – the contortions, convulsions of the faces as the material tokens of joy, fear, and pain. By doing that, photography sets free “the optical unconsciousness” of the human face. Framing the grimaced face in the pictorial plane, photography at the same time frees it from its direct relation to the present and subjugates it through its photographic and ideological conventions (scientific and aesthetic apparatuses). The photographs of (grimaced) faces are nowadays ubiquitous and yet at the same time still bear the power of the uncanny, as if the incessant reproduction has never fully depleted its meaning nor blunted its unsettling – either ecstatic or thrilling – force.

Articles

I love the capacity of photography to exist in the in-between spaces of thoughtful imagining, and rational dreaming.

In the conversation, two of the most prominent New Zealand authors in the field of photography talk about the body of work of Anne Noble’s Antarctica photography projects. Had we lived is a re-photographic project reflecting on the tragedies of heroic age exploration (commemorating the centenary of the deaths of Robert Falcon Scott and his men on their return from the South Pole – Terra Nova Expedition or British Antarctic Expedition to the South Pole, 1912) and on the memory of Erebus tragedy of 1975, when a tourist plane flying over Antarctica crashed into Mt Erebus, killing all 257 people on board. Anne Noble re-photographed image taken by Herbert Bowers at the South Pole – the photograph of Scott and his men taken after they arrived at the South Pole to find Amundsen had already been and gone. Phantasms and Nieves Penitentes projects hint at the triumph of Antarctica over human endeavour and as a non-explorer type herself photographer Anne Noble states: “I rather liked this perverse reversal”. Both tragic events have a notable relationship to photography – Erebus in particular, as those who died were likely looking out of the aeroplane windows taking photographs at the time of impact. This relationship is addressed throughout the conversation between the two, providing an insightful commentary on the questions of authenticity, documentary value and the capacity of photography to exist in the in-between spaces of thoughtful imagining, and rational dreaming.

Reading time: 11 minutes
Historically, snapshots have always been about the everyday, the banal, the repetitive, the cliched events that are part of everyone’s lives. And by using Snapchat, almost any everyday activity can be combined with the production and distribution of an everyday image.

For users of the image messaging Snapchat app, expressiveness is largely mediated through in-built filters and extensive use of short pieces of text and emojis. It is also contingent upon the disappearance of the image after a set time. The certainty these images will not be retained – that they will disappear – sanctions a degree of liberty in what is sent between users. However, there is also a reciprocal level of trust, since despite the app itself having no feature to save an image, recipients can screen capture the images they receive. Users do receive notification that their image has been saved in a screen capture, and this is likely to elicit a spontaneous reaction of despair, a breach of the code of disappearing images that is implicit in Snapchat’s communication method. In this essay, I propose Snapchat portraits express not the face as image but image as perplexing, disappearing, mutating phenomena. With their filters and distortions they unsettle our notions of the index and with their built in disappearance they challenge any notion of image as a memory prosthetic. Snapchat, as a form of portraiture, is not engaged with likeness or reproducibility. Instead, it stresses duplication, disguise and disappearance as the dominant features of contemporary culture.

Interviews

Reading time: 15 minutes
We are basically told how to feel about things, but when that happens in real life there is no script, there is no music, and sometimes really horrific things can unfold in a very, very ordinary way. In a way what is really horrifying about it, is that it is just normal life, except that really bad shit happens.

From the beginnings of the photography, portrait photography has had a special aura – reading one’s own facial expressions and those of others is after all a very human trait. In his project Immersion, British artist Robbie Cooper presents a specific type of portraits – portraits of people as media consumers. We are all aware of the frightening statistics of the average number of hours spent behind the screen, yet Cooper’s intention was not to moralise. A diverse spectrum of people’s expressions captured during watching various media content tells only one part of our human story. In the Immersion, the screen becomes some kind of mirror, recording intense expressions of the portrayed persons, captured with an in-built camera. Because of the accompanying sound, we can guess what the people are watching – the content includes everything, from video games, pornography to snuff movies. Stills from the movies have less documentary value. With the help of the high quality of the photos, the frozen grimaces become peculiarly similar to the classical portraits from the history of art. Almost eccentric grimaces confuse us and at the same time remind us how realistic virtual reality feels. Cooper had already explored our relationship towards virtual reality in his project Alter Ego, in which he sets the gamers of virtual games next to their avatars. He was interested in the human element of virtual worlds by questioning what imaginary personas can tell us about their creators. Throughout our conversation, questions of human consciousness arose.

Reading time: 18 minutes
Breaking of the convention is an argument for certain kind of authenticity. A grimaced face is not a posed face, therefore it must be an authentic, truly expressive face, the real face.

In the interview, Robert Hariman talks about his latest co-authored book The Public Image: Photography and Civic Spectatorship (University of Chicago Press, 2016), presenting the main argument that they put forward with John Louis Lucaites – that a paradigm shift is needed within the field of photographic theory in order to understand the changing social role of photography in contemporary societies. They argue for a redefinition of the medium’s burden of representation, embracing its limitations and treating it as a small language, firmly embedded within the notion of the vernacular. This move beyond simple politics of representation, he argues, should however not be apolitical. In fact, the paradigm shift is needed to re-politicise photography and therefore increase its political efficacy in the wake of unsustainability of the dominant neoliberal socio-economic order and the specific catastrophic idea of progress which it promotes.

Reviews

Facial recognition technology, which seeks to identify the shape of the skull beneath the skin and tissue of the face, is based on the assumption that it can be anything that occurs on the surface of the face, a potential camouflage, while the bone structure underneath it is impossible or at least very difficult to transform.

Jasna Jernejšek (born 1982) holds a BA in Cultural Studies and an MA in Media and Communication Studies from the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ljubljana. Since 2012 she is an editor of radio programme on contemporary visual arts Art-Area at Radio Student. She is a regular contributor to Fotografija magazine. Since 2013 she collaborates as project manager and curator with gallery Photon – Centre for Contemporary Photography and with festival Photonic Moments – Month of Photography. She lives and works in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

The usual practice of portraying the dead before cremation at Manikarnika Ghat becomes an indicator of the unusual and exotic Indian culture, and although taking posthumous portraits has a long and continuous tradition in the Western world, we seemed to have forgotten about this art form.

Jasna Jernejšek (born 1982) holds a BA in Cultural Studies and an MA in Media and Communication Studies from the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ljubljana. Since 2012 she is an editor of radio programme on contemporary visual arts Art-Area at Radio Student. She is a regular contributor to Fotografija magazine. Since 2013 she collaborates as project manager and curator with gallery Photon – Centre for Contemporary Photography and with festival Photonic Moments – Month of Photography. She lives and works in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

Featured

Impressum

MEMBRANA 2 / 2017 • ISSN 2463-8501

publisher:
Membrana, Maurerjeva 8, 1000 Ljubljana • tel.: +386 (0) 31 777 959 • email: info@membrana.si
editorial board: Jan Babnik (editor-in-chief), Ilija T. Tomanić, Lenart Kučić, Emina Djukić • advisory board: Mark Curran, Murat Germen, Witold Kanicki, Ana Peraica, Iza Pevec, Matej Sitar • assistances to editorial team: Iza Pevec, Vanja Žižić
contributors of articles: Jan Babnik, Geoffrey Batchen, Miha Colner, Robbie Cooper, Robert Hariman, John Hillman, Paula Horta, Jasna Jernejšek, Asko Lehmuskallio, Anne Noble, Ana Peraica, Iza Pevec, Lara Plavčak, Devon Schiller, Monika Schwärzler, Matej Sitar, Ilija T. Tomanić
translations: Tom Smith • proofreading: Tom Smith
contributors of images: Uroš Abram, Alejandro Almaraz, Maurizio Anzeri, Aleš Beno, Diego Beyro, Nancy Burson, Federico Carpani & Indra Kumar Jha, Tadas Cerniauskas, Matej Družnik, Jillian Edelstein, Chamblis Giobbi, Heinrich Hoffman, Moa Karlberg, Jure Kastelic, Peter Koštrun, Borut Krajnc, Simon Menner, Anne Noble, Primož Predalič, Urša Premik, Carlo Van de Roer
design: Primož Pislak, LUKS Studio
printing: R-Tisk • print-run: 500

all images and texts © Membrana, except when noted otherwise • editorial photograph: Jure Kastelic, from the series Death Reporters, 2009–, courtesy of the author • last page image from: Richer, Paul Marie Louis Pierre, 1881. Etudes cliniques sur l’hystéro-épilepsie ou grande hystérie. All manuscripts are subject to blind peer review. Manuscripts and portfolios can be send to editors@membrana.si.

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